It’s getting to be that time of year again. You’ve packed up all your hunting gear and said goodbye to another great autumn season. Your local boat launch has been cut off by ice now for a couple weeks. The mercury in your thermometer continues to shrink further and further below the freezing mark. All these signs can only mean one thing. It’s time to hit the hard water in search of early ice northern pike. First ice offers the most productive pike fishing of the ice fishing season. This year, hit the ground running and don’t miss out on the spectacular December action.
Preparation is key when it comes to fishing in subfreezing conditions. Have all your gear in proper working order before you set out onto the ice. When you are targeting pike your main concern should be your tip ups. The brand you use is of little importance as long as the spool spins freely on the coldest of days. I personally prefer either beaver dam tip ups or Frabil thermals. Because the round Frabil’s cover the hole they significantly reduce freeze up, which can be a huge advantage on cold days. I spool all my tip ups with 50 pound black dracon line. This line is easily visible on the ice and is virtually tangle proof. On the end of my dracon I attach a one foot long leader of 20 pound fluorocarbon. If you have always used steel leaders in the past try fluorocarbon this season, I promise you won’t be sorry you did. Fluorocarbon leaders are virtually invisible in the water, yet tough enough to hold up against even the biggest northern. For a hook I usually use a red treble hook in sizes 2-6 depending on the size of the bait I’m using. I like to use smaller hooks than the average person, a smaller hook gets into the fishes mouth and finds the corner almost every time. When I’m fishing early ice I rarely use weight of any kind. A minnow swimming naturally under the ice will tempt almost any early season pike. In addition to your tip ups it’s also a good idea to run through a checklist of the rest of your ice gear and make sure everything is where it should be and working like it’s suppose to.
Location Location Location
Other than safety, location is by far the most important thing to consider when you’re heading out onto the ice for a day of pike fishing. The pike’s moods, habits, and location will change drastically throughout the season. Early in the season you’re going to want to focus your efforts on the shallow areas of the lake. This could include bays, flats, shallow humps, shorelines, or backwaters depending on the type of lake your fishing. When deciding which area on a lake to hit first, pay attention to weed growth. You will be much more productive if the shallow area you try to fish has some sort of weed line associated with it. No matter what type of shallow water you chose to try first, remember to keep it shallow. I have caught monster pike in areas with less than 12 inches of water between the ice and the bottom. That is an extreme, but I would try not to fish much deeper than 4 feet to start with. Early in the season the pike are going to be active and the action should be intense, if you go a couple hours without a flag, it might be a good idea to try out a different type of shallow structure.
Keep it movin’
Early in the ice fishing season the pike are going to actively searching for food. It is crucial to keep your bait fresh and lively. You need a minnow that is going to get the attention of any pike passing nearby. Early in the season the pike are more than willing to chase after a lively minnow. It is also important to remember that pike could be cruising anywhere from right on the bottom to just inches under the ice. Because most fish see upward, it is an advantage to keep your bait higher in the water column. To start a day I usually set my minnows from just under the ice to 18 inches off the bottom. After you get a few flags and discover where the fish are you can then adjust your other tip ups to similar depths.
So when you’re after first ice northern pike remember to take time before you head out to prepare your gear, pay special attention to fishing the shallow weedy areas of the lake, and use fresh lively minnows that will entice those blood thirsty northern. I hope you can use these tips to ice a few more pike this winter.